Across Australia, recent research has shown that a lack of female representation is evident in many aspects of the music industry. Dr. Rae Cooper’s Skipping a Beat report (2017) found that although women make up 45% of qualified musicians, only 20% of all songwriters and composers registered with the Australasian Performing Rights Association identify as women. National radio station Triple J published Ange McCormack’s By The Numbers report in 2019, which showed a broad snapshot of the gender gap within Australia’s music scene. Notably, across 58 Australian radio stations, female acts made up just 21% of top played songs in 2018.
Over the last ten years working as a freelance composer and music producer, I have directly experienced this disparity in gender representation. While I have noticed this imbalance in settings such as theatre, film and dance, the lack of female presence has been most obvious in the electronic music scene. In response to this, I co-founded music community Women of Music Production Perth (WOMPP) in January 2017 with friend and collaborator Rosie Taylor. We started giving monthly free lectures and community engagement for female, transgender and non-binary music makers. From foundation to present, the meetings have aimed to give free education, support, opportunity and display a clear pathway for women in music production.
WOMPP started with eight members, with meetings held in our small studio and has since expanded to over 600 members across Australia and New Zealand. On a local level, this community has had a significant influence on the representation of women within electronic music production. Most notably, the data I have collected from the West Australian Music Award nominations shows a dramatic increase in representation of women since the community started in 2017 (see figure 1 and 2). All of the nominees have been members of the WOMPP community.
These statistics suggest a dramatic shift in representation of women in electronic music within Perth, however we still have a long way to go nationally and internationally. We need equality for women in electronic music production, because it is a vital role in today’s music making process for most genres. To be an electronic music producer you need extensive knowledge in composition and music technology, specifically The Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is key in the process of making electronic music. A DAW (e.g. Ableton Live, FL Studio, ProTools) is a program that runs on a computer and is used to write and record music. In my research, I will be referring to the electronic music producer as someone who creates music using a computer; this individual could be recording and arranging instrumental/vocal music in a studio or simply making music using their laptop in their bedroom. The electronic music producer is someone who ultimately has a lot of power in the music making process and will make many creative decisions both individually and for collaborators. In popular music today, the electronic music producer is the major defining factor for the creative vision of any vocalist or band. I am interested in all genres of electronic music production for this project, including dance music, experimental, and pop music, to name a few.
Being a music producer is a role of power and these roles are not currently equally accessed by women. Smith (2009) argues that inequality in access in one of the factors helping to sustain a music industry built on gender disparity. So why is this access dramatically imbalanced between men and women? Firstly, men have been reluctant to share their powerful position in the role of producer, which has ultimately limited the hands on training for women (Sandstrom, 2000). On a social level, women have mostly had access to social networks that privilege male inclusion (Abtan, 2016), which has further limited womens’ potential access to equipment and vital industry connections (Farrugia & Swiss, 2008).
Furthermore, if women are looking for a potential pathway to imagine their successful career in electronic music production, their role models are limited. A recent Vice survey of 24 electronic music festivals in 2016, found that the representation of female identifying producers and DJ’s was 25% or below for 17 of the listed festivals (Friedlander, 2016). The lowest representation of female acts was just 3.2%.In a studio setting, recent research by the Berklee College of Music has shown that in America and Canada, only 6% of all music producers are women (2018) and globally, just 5% of all music producers are women (Savage, 2012).When it comes to education, women have perceived challenges in learning to produce, as it is comparable to learning a new language based around technology (Farrugia & Swiss, 2008). For girls learning music in school, Victoria Armstrong’s findings suggest that they are twice as disadvantaged, because their creative environment positions them “neither as technologist nor composers” (Armstrong, 2008). As music education in classrooms moves away from traditional pedagogy and the term composition is replaced with ‘music technology suite’ (Armstrong, 2008) what implications will this have for the future of female representation in the music industry?
A review of the Australian Research Council’s (2003-2005) Playing for Life research suggests that young women benefit from single-sex short-term community groups for learning contemporary music skills such as DJing (Baker & Cohen, 2008). This review also noted the benefit of skilled female facilitators in community sessions. Furthermore, it is suggested that when men are removed from the scene, women’s confidence grows (Cockburn 1985; Baker & Cohen 2008).
In reviewing the literature on women in electronic music production and technology, skills sharing between women and community groups consisting of only women, have shown benefits on womens’ confidence and engagement in electronic music production (Ladies Club, Women’s Audio Mission, Lick Club, Female:pressure, Discwoman, GEMS etc). While there is extensive literature on benefits of single-sex schooling (e.g., Green, 1997), there is a need for more research into gender-segregated programs within the community and the benefit women may gain professionally and personally from them (Baker & Cohen, 2008).
My research will look into the influence that gender segregated local community has on skills development, confidence and fostering career paths for women in electronic music production at a micro level, using my community WOMPP as a case study. For this paper I am interviewing longtime members of the community and documenting their industry success from 2017 to present. I will discuss how the impact that community engagement has had on their skills development supporting their career.
Elise Reitze-Swensen is multi-award winning, internationally recognised, multi-disciplinary artist and educator. Elise’s music and teaching has won eight Australian music awards, including West Australian Music’s Best Electronic Producer three years running (2017, 2018 & 2019). Elise’s compositions have been supported by the likes of Triple J, BBC Radio One, Red Bull, the Les Paul Foundation and have topped the Australian Music Radio Airplays national metro charts. As electronic duo Feels, Elise’s performance highlights have included Australian music festivals Listen Out, Laneway, Falls Festival, Groovin The Moo, Perth Festival, Melbourne Fashion Festival, TEDXPerth (speech presentation) and international music festival SXSW (USA). Elise has presented at conferences and music technology events in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Auckland, Los Angeles and Texas. In 2017, Elise established music community WOMPP, which has expanded to include over 600 female and gender non-conforming music makers across Australia and New Zealand.